Bridging the gap between IT professionals and the C-suite
As cloud services provider (CSP) offerings continue to mature, the benefits of cloud-based workloads are becoming easier to realize and, when leveraged properly, these benefits can significantly impact a business’ bottom line. This has not gone unnoticed and the C-suite is increasingly driving organizations of all shapes and sizes to invest their IT budgets by doubling down on cloud services. In fact, according to a recent study, Gartner expects the worldwide public cloud market will grow 18 percent in 2017 to $246.8B, up from $209.2B in 2016.
However, in the SolarWinds IT Trends Report 2017, 35 percent of IT professionals report they have migrated applications and infrastructure back on-premises in the last 12 months. This fact exposes a drastic dichotomy between C-level executives who want to forge ahead and innovate in the cloud and the IT professionals who have more fundamental, boots-on-the-ground knowledge about company applications, workloads, and what’s realistically feasible with respect to cloud computing.
From a business leadership perspective, the cloud represents an opportunity to save on both capital and operating expenses, deliver a higher-quality customer experience, drive additional revenue and competitive advantage through cloud-based or mobile applications, and even advance a senior leader’s career by overseeing an organization’s digital transformation through cloud adoption. For many business leaders, the cloud is simply too tempting to ignore—and you, the IT professionals, are ultimately tasked with bridging the gap between fantasy and reality.
A Sobering Cloud Reality: Migration Challenges
While there’s no disputing the benefits of transitioning your organization to the cloud, the reality of migration and management adjustments is sobering. As your company’s leadership team continues to push for deeper investment in cloud computing, you should be prepared to address several migration challenges.
To start, even though cloud computing can be considered running workloads on “someone else’s infrastructure,” the CSP’s data center is still prone to the same physical wear and tear as your own organization. This means you’re still required to be prepared to mitigate those risks and potential exposure to your applications, and maintain a level of oversight into those workloads. What’s more, cloud computing tends to obfuscate the underlying architecture even more than shared colocation did a decade ago. This means more work on the IT professional’s shoulders to understand the points of failure for that infrastructure and how it can be mitigated.
It’s also easy to overlook seemingly inconsequential considerations when hurriedly migrating to the cloud, but in many cases, these obstacles can prevent your organization from achieving its anticipated success in the cloud. Technical debt, for example, must be accounted for. Every company has technologies and applications that are continuing to drive revenue for the business—keeping the lights on, so to speak—and can’t simply be flipped off and on again. There must be process and protocol to inform your data center strategy.
The skills deficit commonly associated with rapid transitions to the cloud should also not be underestimated. Those of you just taking your first steps towards a hosted environment are likely in possession of very siloed skillsets. For example, perhaps your team is familiar with Hyper-V® and vSphere®, but not Amazon Web Services™, Microsoft® Azure®, or the complexities of SLAs. This is a legitimate concern: without the proper research and understanding of each cloud provider’s services, features, and associated charges, your organization could experience a drastic decrease in end-user quality of service compared to your current on-premises setup. At the same time, IT professionals in the cloud era must also hone soft skills such as product and project management, and the ability to enunciate the value of cloud services.
Finally, despite cost efficiency being a main incentive for cloud migration, the cloud is not always the least expensive option. Every organization is looking for unique solutions to its problem set, but the leading CSPs are focused more on providing mainstream services as opposed to highly customized offerings that are typically developed in-house. Netflix®, for example, builds its own toolset to complement the commodity services it receives from AWS®. The tradeoff for “easy button” custom-hosted services is cost.
Bridging the Gap: Best Practices for Cloud Deployments
The benefits and possibilities provided by cloud computing are driving more executive chefs into the data center kitchen than ever before. But at the end of the day, the C-suite is less concerned about where services are coming from and instead focused on how these services will enhance customer experience.
In this realm, your main job as an IT professional will be to help establish a realistic migration strategy that will successfully move the business needle while normalizing the experience for your end users. You can prepare yourself for this brave new world with the ABCs of best practices:
- Aptitude: In today’s IT landscape, it will be critical to educate yourself about new technology and cloud services on a regular basis, or else you will risk losing control of your career trajectory. You should continue the trend of cultivating broad skillsets and avoid putting all your eggs in one vendor’s basket—be prepared to understand the differences in offerings, services, and benefits to reap the most out of cloud services. Similarly, technology abstractions such as containers and microservices are also important to learn and understand. Without constantly growing your tech aptitude, you’re much more apt to fall behind.
- Baselines: It’s often said that, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” More to the point, if you don’t know what “normal” is, you can’t determine when something has gone off the rails. To more accurately establish application or infrastructure needs in the cloud, you’ll need to leverage comprehensive monitoring and management solutions that can establish baselines around performance and resource utilization needs. At the same time, these baselines can help create a mile-marker for your current data center efficacy, which can then be used to quantify the benefits of a project that has been migrated to the cloud. For example, did your application gain in term of availability, scalability, or taking advantage of pre-defined services from CSPs? Did you save developer or IT ops time?
Your ability to communicate change following a shift to the cloud and/or any necessary deviations from a migration plan will depend on a fundamental understanding of your data center today.
Collaboration: It takes many forms, but in this case, because there is so much variety, volume, and velocity of technology constructs and skillsets required in the cloud—from business strategy to project management and sales—you will need to lean on communities, professional connections, and find a way to pull all this information into a central command center. Leveraging cloud services also ensures your projects will be distributed across a variety of geolocations and regions, and having a central repository of information around each application or workload’s performance needs will allow your IT department to become more effective with respect to budget use and relevant skill development.
Undoubtedly, the cloud delivers organizations a wide array of benefits that are increasingly difficult for the C-suite to ignore—even if they wanted to, though data suggests they do not. And while it may seem like a simple lift-and-shift migration process, from an IT standpoint, getting your company to the cloud takes more forethought and strategy than first meets the eye. As a result, IT professionals play a much more critical role in communicating what can realistically be achieved with a cloud migration, both in terms of benefits realized and from an IT management and service delivery perspective.
By leveraging the above best practices, you can successfully become the normalization bridge between business management and IT, ultimately helping your company embark on a digital transformation journey without sacrificing your customer experience.
Kong Yang is a Head Geek at SolarWinds with over 20 years of IT experience specializing in virtualization and cloud management. He is a VMware vExpert™, Cisco® Champion, and active contributing thought leader within the virtualization community.